Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016



Steve Blake's aim is true, helping Lakers upend Rockets


HOUSTON -- The Lakers tried their best, chasing Dwight Howard and his associates wherever he went, but ultimately failed.

That was last summer. Not Thursday night.

The Lakers lost a 19-point lead but then rallied to beat Howard and the Houston Rockets, 99-98, in front of a suddenly stunned Toyota Center crowd.

Steve Blake was the Lakers' hero, hitting a wide-open three-pointer with 1.3 seconds left to prevent the Lakers from falling to the Rockets on the court after losing to them in free agency.

Last July, Rockets executives wined and dined Howard, piling into a Mercedes-Benz with him in Los Angeles on the first night of free agency before eventually winning the Howard sweepstakes.

Howard had 15 points and 14 rebounds Thursday but also an 0-1 record against the Lakers since signing a four-year, $88-million contract with Houston.

The Lakers were jubilant on the court, hugging under the basket after Patrick Beverley missed a 27-foot three-point attempt at the buzzer.

Then they returned to the locker room to find something else. Kobe Bryant smiling broadly.

"He was in a good mood," Pau Gasol said. "He shook everybody's hand when we got in the locker room."

Bryant 1, Howard 0.

The Lakers were 13-point underdogs but led 38-19 on the way to making a ridiculous 12 of their first 15 three-point attempts.

They cooled off badly and looked to be a stumbling mess when they took the ball out of bounds down two points with 10.9 seconds left. They fumbled it at least three times before Houston knocked the ball out of bounds.

So after another timeout with 3.4 seconds left, the play was supposed to go to Steve Nash. But Jodie Meeks inbounded the ball to the open Blake, who finished with 14 points.

"It would have been nicer if the buzzer went off," the understated Blake said.

The Lakers held their breath through one more timeout and improved to 3-3. They got there in part by employing the Hack-a-Howard, which Lakers Coach Mike D'Antonicriticized last season.

Howard was five for 12 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter (five for 16 overall), going four of eight when fouled intentionally.

"I have to get back into the gym and continue the work and they will fall," he said. "They hit a tough shot. I think they just had confidence all game."

The Rockets had their chances to win at the line, getting 52 free-throw attempts and...

Steve Blake ruins Rockets’ comeback bid with dagger in closing seconds


A game that began with the Rockets unable to defend the 3-point line, ended that way, too.

For all the free throws Dwight Howard missed and all the 3-pointers the Lakers made, the Rockets had done just enough to need to a few more seconds of defense to steal a win and allow Howard, in his first meeting with the Lakers, to laugh last.

Instead, Howard had the miss the Rockets could not overcome.

With the Lakers leading by two and the Lakers inbounding with just 3.4 seconds left, Kevin McHale sent orders to switch on every screen. Jeremy Lin was picked off by Steve Nash and then Pau Gasol. With Pat Beverley rushing to recover, Howard switched over the Steve Blake too late.

Blake nailed his 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left, lifting the Lakers past the Rockets, 99-98, on a last mistake, like so many others all game, that the Rockets could not overcome.

“We were supposed to try to switch everything,” Lin said. “I guess miscommunication or whatever, but we didn’t execute. I mean, the game is so much more than just that last play. I think that last play was kind of a theme for the night in terms of miscommunications on defense and not being totally locked in.”

The Rockets repeatedly cited a “miscommunication,” but all seemed to know the plan.

“One thing we said – we were going to switch everything out,” McHale said. “We switched late. We had a mistake and we didn’t get out and Blake hit a big 3. We switched late. We were switching one through five at that point.”

It fit with the finish in which the Rockets led by five with two minutes left but never scored again. Lin ran the clock down and missed a running jumper with 1:21 left. The Rockets could not inbounds the ball, forcing Chandler Parsons to pass to Howard and allowing the Lakers to send him to the line with 53.8 seconds left. James Harden, who had 35 points, missed a nine-footer and then with 12.9 seconds left, pulled up from 18 feet and missed again, allowing the Lakers to shoot for the win.

“Do what I do; take us to victory,” Harden said of his plan. “I missed the shot.”

That at least was a good shot, if not perhaps the best option on a night he went 14 of 16 from the line. It was at least better than much of the Rockets’ execution in those final minutes.

“We didn’t execute well down the stretch,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. We had a couple of things that we were trying to do...


Lakers are run over on the road again


DALLAS — There were so many problems last season for the Lakers, and one was unkind enough to stay awhile, tracking plenty of dirt onto the new carpet.

The Lakers couldn't win on the road with Dwight Howard last season and can't do it without him so far.

The sample size is small but strong, the Lakers falling meekly to the Dallas Mavericks, 123-104, Tuesday at American Airlines Center.

GAME SUMMARY: Mavericks 123, Lakers 104

Pau Gasol and Steve Nash shot poorly, the entire team rebounded lamely and the Lakers trailed by 30 in a road game for the second time in six days.

Oh, and they fell to 0-2 away from Staples Center after also being blasted by Golden State last week, 125-94.

The strange thing about Tuesday was the Lakers' 20-point deficit late in the second quarter without Dirk Nowitzki scoring a point.

He finally scored, of course, but finished with only 11, meaning most of the damage was done by guard Monta Ellis (30 points, nine assists) and a role player named Jae Crowder (18 points, seven-for-nine shooting).

"We can't make a habit out of getting our butts kicked on the road, because otherwise teams, when we come to their house, they're going to be like, 'Well, we've got the Lakers, we're going to kick their [rear],' " Gasol said.

The only real question was whether Dallas would get to 130 points after hitting 120 midway through the fourth quarter. Miraculously, they didn't. Not that it mattered.

The Lakers' starting five combined for 32 points, Gasol scoring 10 on four-for-nine shooting and Nash scoring five on two-for-eight shooting.

The rebounding numbers were silly, the Lakers falling way short, 50-35. It would take an entire story to attack their defensive frailty.

Before Tuesday, they were 25th in the NBA in points allowed (105.5) and 26th in opponents' shooting percentage (46.7%).

Both are sure to get worse. The Lakers let the Mavericks shoot 52%.

"Way too many points," Gasol said, mentioning the Mavericks' 67-point first half. "If we give something up, it has to be a contested jump shot, not a layup, not a dunk."

It got so bad that Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni made another lineup change, this one on the fly. Shawne Williams was benched to start the third quarter in favor of Jordan Hill.

The results were a lot like the first half, even though Hill had some dunks on the way to eight points and three rebounds.

The Lakers had done pretty well here in...

Monta Ellis torches LA for 30 points, nine assists


DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki's new pick-and-roll partner put on quite a show for the old one.

Monta Ellis had 30 points and nine assists, Nowitzki was another of seven Dallas players in double figures with 11 points and the Mavericks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 123-104 Tuesday night.

Steve Nash, Nowitzki's buddy and old running mate, had an up-close view as Ellis did a little bit of everything, scoring on drives and pull-up jumpers while finding open teammates with nifty passing that has come as a pleasant surprise to the Mavericks.

Ellis was 11 of 14 from the field, made all eight of his free throws and had just one of 12 Dallas turnovers against 34 assists.

"The lane was wide open, so I just attacked, and when they came over, I passed the ball and that's what we wanted," said Ellis, who had at least 30 points and eight assists for the second time in his four games withDallas. "Me being aggressive opened everything else up."

Nash was scoreless until the second half and finished with five points. Nick Young led the Lakers with 21.

"We obviously had a hard time containing Ellis," said Nash, who was Nowitzki's teammate in Dallas for the big German's first six seasons. "He got into the guts of our defense all night, getting easy buckets, resting buckets for his teammates and just really spacing us out with his penetration."

The Mavericks never trailed, led by 20 late in the first half and pushed the lead to 26 early in the second half after Ellis got them off to a quick start with a jumper and two assists, including one when Nowitzki took the pass and ducked under a defender's arm for the layup.

"Monta Ellis was fantastic tonight, all aspects of the game," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "He defended, he made plays at the rim, he was under control, he hit midrange shots, he hit guys cutting to the basket."

Jose Calderon had 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, including one that put Dallas ahead 90-60 with 4:33 left in the third quarter. The Mavericks were 13 of 27 from long range.

The Lakers tried to make it interesting with a 19-4 run, but DeJuan Blair stopped it by blocking a layup attempt by Chris Kaman, leading to a 3-pointer by rookie Gal Mekel after Nowitzki passed out of a double team.

Mekel scored again on layup off a steal from Blair, who had 10 points — all in the first half —...


Moral victories stacking up for Celtics


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Gerald Wallace may have put it best after Friday’s come-from-way-ahead loss to Milwaukee: “Once you start down, it’s a long way down.”

So, while the Celtics recognize wins will be hard to come by this season and the franchise is looking more at long-term goals, there is the rather pressing need to achieve some positive results to maintain a sanitary work environment.

“No question you’ve got to have some success,” said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. “Right now, we’re just at a stage where we’ve got a lot of work to do at both ends of the court in terms of consistency. But there’s been a lot of really good things.

“I’m not trying to count moral victories right now, but positive things are happening. I know our guys were frustrated (Friday) night because they thought they had one, but I see a lot of good stuff out of a lot of individuals. I’m happy and confident with the way they’re playing and just feel like it’s a work in progress.”

New coach Brad Stevens had a similar response on the matter of the need for victories to prevent things from getting out of hand.

“No question,” said Stevens. “I think one of the things that I’ve always had as kind of a personal theory is you never let a molehill become a mountain. You address things quickly and initially and you go from there.

“You’re going to have moments of friction throughout the course of any season. You’re going to have tense moments. You’re going to have moments where you win and shouldn’t, don’t win and should have. And both of them pull and tug at you and challenge you in different ways. But you have to address the things that aren’t going well so that then you can move forward.”

As will be the case the entire season, the success of the Celtics cannot truly be measured by what happens on the scoreboard.

“The hardest part is that we’ve really made a lot of progress,” said Stevens. “And what’s difficult is maintaining a positive feel about yourself as you’re not getting the results you want.

“Most of the world — and rightfully so — you know, we all pay attention to the result. And at the end of the day, we’ve got to try to get the result, but we can’t ignore progress and we’ve got to make sure we build...

Shortcomings hurt Celtics in loss to Pistons


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Three games, three losses.

The Celtics have had their moments in each of them, battling back from deficits to halt potential blowouts, but their record does not reflect moments.

It only reflects the final outcome, the latest an 87-77 loss Sunday to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“We can take a piece of each of these games with us, right?” said Celtics rookie coach Brad Stevens. “But we’d like to put it all together and it’s going to be frustrating until we do.”

And then, Stevens uttered a phrase most associated with another coach of a professional team in New England, one that routed its opponent Sunday.

“It is what it is.”

Stevens added, “We’ve got to figure out a way, whether it’s personnel, or whether it’s something that we’re doing, to be more consistent throughout the game.”

Personnel-wise, the Celtics, who remain one of four winless NBA teams (Denver, Utah and Washington the others), were overmatched before ever stepping onto the hardwood here.

The Pistons are oversized, with a towering, talented and athletic frontline of 6-foot-11-inch Andre Drummond, 6-11 Greg Monroe, and 6-9 Josh Smith.

The Celtics, meanwhile, are undersized, with their only true center a 25-year-old NBA rookie who before this season was playing in Spain: 6-11 Vitor Faverani.

As expected, Drummond, Monroe, and Smith feasted on the Celtics, combining for 45 points and 28 rebounds. The Pistons scored 54 points around the bucket and had a 19-8 edge in second-chance points.

“They pounded us in the paint all night,” Stevens said. “That really hurt us. We were earning baskets. They were making them at the rim, not that we weren’t earning them too, but it’s just different.”

Still, the Celtics twice battled back, only to be foiled by their own follies.

They trailed by as much as 15 in the third quarter but took a two-point lead early in the fourth.

Then Kelly Olynyk, who scored a team-high 15 points off the bench, was tagged for three quick fouls, Jordan Crawford committed two consecutive run-killing turnovers, and then was hit with a technical foul for yelling at the referees.

After Detroit made the technical free throw, Brandon Jennings, who scored 14 in his season debut after sitting out with an impacted wisdom tooth and fractured jaw, buried a deep 3-pointer to cap a 10-0 Pistons’ run.

The Celtics again charged...


Bucks bench fuels 22-point comeback over Celtics


Boston — Zaza Pachulia is booed heavily every time he steps on the TD Garden floor.

Boston basketball fans have long memories and recall his tussles with former Celtics star Kevin Garnett when Pachulia played for the Atlanta Hawks.

Garnett wasn't in the building Friday night as the new-generation Celtics took the court, but Pachulia was still doing damage as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The veteran center finished with a game-high 20 points and helped change the tone of the game as the Bucks stormed back from a 22-point deficit to claim a 105-98 victory before 18,624 fans.

Pachulia and rookie point guard Nate Wolters sparked a 10-0 run to finish the game as Milwaukee (1-1) won its first regular-season game under coach Larry Drew.

Power forward John Henson also had a huge block on a drive by Boston guard Courtney Lee in the final minute, leading to a layup by Pachulia that helped clinch it.

"We need a guy to come in and play with physicality in the paint area, and that's who Zaza is," said Drew, who also coached him in Atlanta.

"I thought that first half they just manhandled us in the paint. We got off to a little bit of a sluggish start in that third quarter, but the minute I put Zaza and John Henson in there, things did change."

Pachulia hit all 10 of his free throw attempts and added four assists while playing 30 minutes off the bench.

The Bucks' bench totaled 66 points as Drew went with a lineup of four reserves — Pachulia, Wolters, Henson and Khris Middleton — and veteran forward Caron Butler down the stretch.

Butler also made a key play when he deflected the ball away from Gerald Wallace, leading to a fast-break chance for Wolters, who was fouled and hit both free throws for a 101-98 lead with 31.4 seconds left.

"In the first half, to say we came out flat is an understatement," Butler said. "I thought Nate came in and was solid for us; John Henson did a great job. Khris was unbelievable.

"And Zaza was doing it all. He can't jump over a sheet of paper but he knows how to use his body."

Wolters contributed 14 points and six assists.

The Bucks outscored the Celtics, 34-15, in the final quarter and 55-26 over the last 19 minutes after trailing, 72-50.

Boston coach Brad Stevens was singing the praises of Wolters before the game, and the former South Dakota State star showed why.

"It might just be because I'm a mid-major guy and he probably has a soft spot...

Painful early lesson for this crew


This is going to be a difficult season for the Celtics. As currently constructed, that is a given. Even the return of Rajon Rondo will not turn their Gatorade into wine.

It is, therefore, imperative that the Celts avoid making heavy contributions to their own demise.

Like they did in the second half of last night’s 105-98 loss to Milwaukee, which had backcourt issues of its own playing without Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour.

The Celts led by as many as 18 in the first half, and with Bill Russell looking on, they played the kind of team basketball worthy of his gaze. But that went away in the second half, and beyond the points, the number that sticks out is 2 — assists in the second half. Gerald Wallace fed Vitor Faverani for a jumper at 6:15 of the last quarter, and Courtney Lee fed Wallace for a 3-pointer three minutes later.

Outside of that, nothing.

We now yield the floor to Mr. Wallace.

“We got selfish,” he said after going for 14 points, six rebounds and a team-high four assists. “We got selfish as a team. Instead of worrying about winning the ballgame, we were more worried about our stats and, you know, getting points. It showed. I mean, we went from a team that was together and moving and playing together in the first half to a team that was five individuals out on the court, everybody playing for themselves. And it showed on the defensive end.”

Why did this happen?

“I don’t have a clue,” said Wallace. “I mean, you’ve got to ask everybody in here. I don’t know. I really don’t even understand it. I’m trying to figure out what’s more important, winning or padding your stats, because this was a game we’re supposed to win easy without even the starters playing in the fourth quarter.

“Instead, we got selfish as a team. We didn’t move the ball. We let the ball stick. We stopped pushing the ball. And their second unit came in and manhandled us and did whatever they wanted to do.”

The Celtics know what they’re up against this year. They know that nothing will come easy if it comes at all.

“Guys got to understand that,” said Wallace. “It’s not a season to worry about yourself. We’re going to have to do this as a team. We’re going to need all 15 guys pulling together, playing together as one. You know, we looked pretty good in the first half when we do that. We look like we looked in the second half...